Emotional boundaries (DW#358)

All of us crave to be seen, known and understood. We benefit from having relationships where we can share our hopes, dreams and fears, occasionally vent our emotions and also seek advice. When we allow ourselves to be known in this way, it creates vulnerability and a deep emotional bond. 

It can be difficult for one person (our spouse) to meet all of our emotional and friendship needs, and both men and women benefit from having good friends outside our marital relationships. 

Having said that, sharing such an emotional bond with a member of the opposite sex leads us into a big danger zone. Confiding in the opposite sex opens doors to emotional bonds that can easily turn others into more than "just friends". 

As Shirley Glass explains, "The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love. Eighty-two percent of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, "just a friend." 

When these friendships are first formed, they seem harmless enough. A shared joke or positive moment of connection may be harmless enough. Conversations gradually move from professional to personal, from discussing events to sharing feelings. The person begins to feel that finally there is somebody who understands them. Connecting with this person brightens their day, makes them feel alive. 

Somewhere deep down there might be an inkling that something is not quite right. And they might even try to stop it. But the growing emotional bond makes them keep coming back to the relationship. This intermittent on and off, explain experts, adds to the bonding experience and further entangles the relationship, making it very difficult to break it off. 

The problem with these relationships goes beyond just the marriage, explains Glass. Because these "good people" have active consciences, they do not set out to hurt their spouses by having an illicit relationship. So while they are engaged in these affairs, they are "not only betraying their partners but also their own beliefs and moral values, provoking inner crises as well as marital ones".

Once the other relationship has become a reality, such people need to constantly justify it to themselves to avoid the shame and guilt that they experience. This makes them find fault with their spouses and behave in ways that makes recovery of the marriage very challenging. 

The particular dynamic of emotional affairs makes them one of the most damaging to married relationships and the hardest to recover from. 

It is far far easier to set strong emotional boundaries than to mend the devastation from an emotional affair. 

Setting emotional boundaries involves not sharing personal information about yourself or about your relationship, especially not looking for validation or support about the challenges that you are experiencing in your marriage. 

It also involves making a commitment to never criticize your spouse to somebody else. 

It is a very idea to seek help for your relationship. We just need to make sure that we do it either from someone who is professional and objective (with a marriage-friendly mindset) OR from someone who is a friend of the marriage. 

Making these commitments strengthens the protective walls around your marriage and makes it more unlikely that outside forces can enter the fortress of your marriage to wreak destruction on your family.

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